The possibilities may be endless, but your resources are not. For many business owners with limited time and money, deciding which ideas to pursue can be a challenge. Here are three ways to prioritize your options for growth:

1. Start with your company vision

The best way to make sure you’re moving in the right direction is to take a step back from all of your ideas and begin by looking at your vision for your company. Who do you want to be as a company? When you have a clear picture of your goal in mind, it will be easier to visualize what steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Without a clear vision you could end up pursuing options that actually drag you in an opposite direction.

2. Use tools to stay objective

While it’s natural to be somewhat subjective, after all business growth is exciting, you don’t want to make decisions based on emotions alone. Try bringing objectivity into your decision-making process by using tools to evaluate and compare your options. When it comes to external, growth, we typically use the Market Criteria Matrix to evaluate the best markets for growth and the Prospect Criteria Matrix to evaluate acquisition prospects. This tool can be adapted to evaluate any opportunity for growth.

Keeping your vision in mind, develop about six key criteria of your ideal opportunity. Next, you develop metrics to quantify the criteria. For example, if one of your goals is to expand your operations to the West Coast, one of your criterion would be location and the metric could be located on the West Coast. Give each option a rating using a 1-10 scale and see how well the options compare to each other and to the criteria you’ve established.

3. Gather data

Making a decision without the proper information can be a big mistake. Conduct research to validate (or invalidate) your assumptions. You don’t have to uncover every granular detail, but it will be helpful to have an understanding of trends and how they will impact your market in the future. One of the best sources of information about the marketplace is your customers. Try identifying the needs and wants of current and future customers. It may even be as simple as conducting a customer survey or asking your sales department for input.

While it can be overwhelming to process through all your options for growth, the good news is that you have many options! Hopefully these three suggestions will help you organize your thoughts as you plan your next steps.

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Finding a list of companies to acquire is exciting! You start thinking about all the possibilities and how the deal will grow your business exponentially. But before you move forward with any of these candidates, take a step back and make sure you are looking at companies in the right markets.

What are the “right markets?” Markets that have a healthy, stable demand and are growing. After all the primary driver for acquisitions is to help your company grow. Without researching markets first, you risk acquiring a company in a stagnant or declining market. Although the company may have strong financials today, if there’s no demand in the marketplace, your acquisition won’t deliver the expected returns on growth in the future. Without first selecting a market, you have reason to beware of even the most tempting buying opportunities.

Finding the right market begins by defining the market using geography, verticals or another relevant factor, and by developing market criteria to aid in your decision-making. Your research will begin with a broad sweep and become progressively narrower as you learn more about the market.  Your market criteria will help you objectively evaluate and compare the markets against your strategic rationale for acquisition.

Researching markets first not only helps you avoid acquiring a bad company, it helps you identify the best companies to buy. By conducting market research, you will gain a better understanding of the market, which will help you evaluate acquisition prospects and negotiate with owners as you proceed with the acquisition process.

Learn more about the “markets first” approach in our upcoming webinar How to Pick Top-Notch Markets.

After this webinar you will be able to:

  • Understand the market-driven process
  • Explain market criteria (market growth and size, competitive dynamics, barriers to entry) and how to use them to evaluate a market or segment
  • Describe effective secondary & primary market research techniques
  • Explain the triangulation technique to obtain the most relevant information for accurate decision-making
  • Develop tools to objectively compare and contrast markets

How to Pick Top-Notch Markets

Date: Thursday, February 23, 2017

Time: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EST

CPE credit is available,

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Mars, the maker of M&Ms and Snickers, will acquire VCA, a veterinary company, for $7.7 billion. VCA owns about 800 animal hospitals a lab business and dog day care franchises and has about $ 2 billion in revenue.

Although it may seem strange for a candy company to acquire a pet company, Mars already owns 39 petcare brands including IAMS, Pedigree and Whiskas and the acquisition will make the petcare division the company’s largest. The deal also makes sense for Mars’ long-term growth. The company, like many packaged good companies, is facing declining sales as many consumers today prefer healthy, fresh foods over packaged goods. While the CPG market may be in decline, fortunately, the petcare market is growing. In 2015, $35 billion were spent on vet care in the U.S.

Identify the Right Market for Growth

The transaction illustrates how finding the right market for growth can set you up for long-term success. For Mars, the acquisition of VCA is an opportunity to capitalize on a booming sector.

Many companies, when pursuing mergers and acquisitions think about a list of companies to buy and don’t spend much time analyzing the market. Unfortunately, this may mean acquiring a company that despite being a winner in today, is in a declining market.

Take the time to conduct a market analysis to explore the best opportunities for your company.  When faced with stagnation or contraction in your current market, you can use strategic acquisitions to pivot into a new high-growth market to ensure your long-term success.

What Business Are You Really In?

Another lesson from this transaction is the importance of really understanding your business. It’s easy to go with the most obvious choice when defining our business. If Mars simply stopped short and said “we are a candy company,” this deal would never have been executed. What’s worse, Mars could be facing serious challenges since demand for packaged goods is declining.

It’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture when you think about growing your business. What is your business really about? Don’t understate the power of this simple question. Your answer will impact the trajectory of growth you choose.

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Thanks to advances in science and healthcare, people are living longer than ever. As they age, demand for healthcare products and services increases. One of the most significant demographic trends impacting healthcare is the aging baby boomer generation. As about 75 million American baby boomers grow older, demand for healthcare continue to will increase rapidly.

Today, companies are taking note of these market changes and using acquisitions to quickly capitalize on this opportunity for growth.

Just this week eyeglass giants Luxottica and Essilor announced a merger in order to take advantage of ideal market conditions. The acquisition will allow the company to benefit from strong demand in the eyeglass market that is only expected to grow.

In the heart disease sector, medical device companies are also acquiring in order to meet the growing needs of patients. Medtronic acquired HeartWare International for $1.1 billion, Teleflex acquired Vascular Solutions for $1 billion and Edwards Lifesciences acquired Valtech Cardio for $690 million. In this sector there is “huge unmet needs” according to Edwards Lifesciences CEO Michael Mussallem.

The primary driver of these acquisitions is swiftly meeting demand. Rather than waiting to build their own solutions, with acquisitions companies can rapidly take advantage of market conditions today and position themselves for future growth.

The ability to meet future demand is key to the success of any company. Take a look at your own industry and market. Where is demand going?

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The demand for “healthy” or “better for you” food and beverages continues as consumers become more health conscious. Following this trend, Dr. Pepper Snapple (DPS) has agreed to acquire Bai brands, the maker of antioxidant and other “all natural” drinks for $1.7 billion. Founded in 2009, Bai has about $300 million in revenue and 373 employees. The acquisition is one of the biggest for DPS and the first major one since it spun off Cadbury Schweppes in 2008.

Demand for Soda Shrinking

Soda companies are faced with shrinking demand for their traditional products and increased competition from new healthy products both from large food manufacturers and startup brands.

Many recognize the need to expand their portfolios in order to continue to grow. Recently Coca-Cola acquired Unilever’s Soy drink business and PepsiCo agreed to acquire KeVita, a probiotic drink maker. Both companies also own a number of “healthy” brands. Coca-Cola owns Dasani water, Honest Tea, PowerAde and Vitamin Water and Pepsi owns Gatorade, Tropicana, Lipton Teas, and Aquafina.

While the multiple for this transaction is on the higher end, DPS is acquiring the potential growth opportunities Bai presents.

Thinking strategically, this acquisition will add breadth to DPS’s product line. DPS hopes to grow the business by filling its existing pipeline and distribution expertise with Bai’s products. By going healthy, DPS may be able to grow despite the declining popularity of soda.

From Strategic Alliance to Acquisition

Sometimes business leaders and owners shy away from acquisition because they are overwhelmed by buying an entire company. It is important to remember that there are many options and tools available to you when it comes to external growth, from strategic alliance to joint ventures to minority interest to a majority stake to 100% acquisition. All of these options should be considered to determine which path is right for your business.

The DPS – Bai transaction did not begin at 100% acquisition. Instead, DPS began with a strategic partnership, then later acquired a minority stake for $15 million in 2014. With minority interest DPS could gain some of the upsides of Bai’s growth, while also mitigating the risks associated with a new relatively and unknown product. Once Bai continued to grow and proved its profitability, DPS decided to acquire the entire business.

Minority investment is often used as a foothold to get your toes wet with an option to acquire the entire company later, depending on what makes the most sense for your business.

Are you keeping up with industry changes fast enough? Or are you being left behind? It’s no secret that technology is disrupting industries from manufacturing to telecommunications to retail.

“…The risk of being left behind because of technological disruption and change is driving companies to make acquisitions faster,” Steven Davidoff Solomon writes in Dealbook.

For many firms, acquisitions are the only way to obtain a new technology or product and remain a competitive player in the marketplace.

Technology firms are notorious for acquiring startups or smaller firms to gain the latest talent and cutting-edge products. For example, Facebook acquired new technology when it bought potential rivals Instagram and WhatsApp. At the same time it bolstered its position against Google.

Another sector that’s facing great disruption is the financial industry. Most think of traditional brick and mortar banks, suits and ties, credit cards, debit cards, etc. The reality is FinTech (financial technology) is reshaping the industry. PayPal, Venmo and Apple Pay are growing in popularity and traditional banks need to keep up or risk losing consumers. Traditional big banks are acquiring, rather than building, FinTech capabilities. JPMorgan Chase has formed a joint venture with On Deck, an online lending platform for small businesses.

The advantage of acquisitions, especially in a swiftly changing environment, is the ability to gain a new technology or product rapidly and in some cases immediately. A well-executed acquisition brings you a “ready-made” solution where once the deal closes you have access to new technology, new technology that your customers need. On the other hand, building your own solution can take more time, but in today’s fast-paced environment, by the time you develop your own solution, the market may have moved on. In addition, you’ll likely face some teething problems or setbacks as you begin to develop a solution.

If there’s a technology or product that your company needs to stay relevant today or in the next five to ten years, I recommend you consider acquisition as an option. A carefully planned, strategic acquisition can help you stay up-to-date and relevant in your industry.

Photo Credit: Barn Images

Seeking growth amid a shifting telecommunications industry, AT&T has bet on media content. The company plans to acquire Time Warner for $85 billion in one of the biggest media acquisitions in history. The transaction will likely take over a year to receive regulatory approval, but both AT&T and Time Warner executives are optimistic. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has compared the deal to Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal in 2013, which was approved after a long period of regulatory scrutiny. This vertical merger will bring together Time Warner’s media content and AT&T’s distribution network in one company.

Consumers Dropping Landlines, Cable TV

The telecommunications market has shifted with many consumers dropping landlines and cable TV. Mobile use is increasing exponentially with mobile users representing 65% of digital media time in 2015. This means people are primarily using smartphones to read articles, play games and watch videos than are using computers.

Telecommunications and media companies are starting to take notice of these trends. Just last year AT&T’s biggest rival, Verizon, acquired AOL in a push to reach more mobile users. And earlier this year, it announced it would acquire Yahoo to boost its mobile unit.

Deal Synergies

One benefit of the deal is that AT&T will be able to provide more data to Time Warner and advertisers without raising prices for consumers or withholding the content from competitors (like Verizon).

AT&T may also plan to create original, exclusive content leveraging Time Warner’s expertise in media. Online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon have successfully produced their own original content.

In the long term, AT&T wants to build up a robust, next-generation infrastructure in order to compete with cable providers. “I will be sorely disappointed if we are not going head-to-head” with cable providers by 2021, said Stephenson.

Growing in a Declining Market

As demand for traditional telecommunication services shrinks, AT&T and other providers must look outside their current market for new growth opportunities. In a declining marketing, consolidating, or simply gaining more market share will not help you grow in the long term. If AT&T managed to capture the entire market for landline phones, their revenues would still shrink as consumers abandon landlines.

By acquiring Time Warner, AT&T will own content including popular networks such as HBO and CNN. Organically growing its own content business would take time and be difficult given the large size of other media content producers like Disney and CBS. As an established business, Time Warner gives AT&T a foothold in the media market and immediate access to new users.

If like A&T you are stuck in a declining marketing, identifying markets with future demand for your company’s products or services is the key to growth. You can explore future demand by using our tool, the Opportunity Matrix, to understand where you want to position your company strategically looking forward.

Start exploring today 

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Ford announced it would acquire Chariot, a shuttle-van startup based in San Francisco, in order to expand beyond auto manufacturing and become a mobility company. This is the first acquisition by Ford Smart Mobility, which was established in March of 2016 in order to focus on “emerging mobility services.” Ford reportedly paid $65 million for Chariot.

Chariot uses 100 Ford Transit vans to offer rides to commuters along 28 routes in the San Francisco Bay Area. After the acquisition, Chariot will leverage Ford’s expertise in logistics and vehicle operations as well as use data algorithms to schedule trips in real time. Together Chariot and Ford plan to expand to at least five more markets. Ford already has shuttle programs in Kansas City, Missouri, and Dearborn Michigan. Ford intends to focus on other forms of transportation including bikes, dynamic shuttles and more, according to Jim Hackett, the chairman of Ford Smart Mobility.

Ford will also partner with Motivate to expand a bike sharing program in the Bay Area. Through the partnership, the program will grow to from 700 to 7,000 bikes and be renamed Ford GoBike.

Auto Manufacturing in Decline

To put it nicely, the outlook for auto manufacturing is pretty bleak. Competitors like Zipcar, Uber and Lyft and new technologies have disrupted the traditional automotive industry. Consumers today are buying fewer cars and option for public transportation or car sharing instead. The trend is not limited to millennials, in fact, according to a study published by University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, fewer middle-aged adults in their 30s and 40s had driver’s licenses in 2014 than did in 1983. Ford is by no means the only car manufacturer to see that its market is shrinking. Earlier this year GM invested $500 million in Lyft to invest in self-driving car partnership.

How to Grow in a Shrinking Market

What’s your market outlook? While your business may be profitable today, if you’re in a shrinking market, future growth will be challenging. Faced with a declining market, now is the time to consider your options and next steps to ensure long term growth. You made focus on building your own solution organically or you may decide to partner with another company to rapidly gain access to a new market. In the case of Ford, the acquisition will allow the company to rapidly gain a foothold in the growing market of ride-sharing and alternate means of transportation.

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr cc

Unilever purchased Dollar Shave Club, a startup that sells razors and grooming products to men, for $1 billion. That price may seem absurd for a company that is not yet profitable, however Dollar Shave club is growing quickly.

The company’s revenue is expected to jump from $152 million in 2015 to $200 million in 2016. Dollar Shave Club was founded 2012 by Michael Dubin and delivers razors and other grooming products to subscribers each month by mail. The acquisition also gives Unilever a foothold in the U.S. men’s razor market and allows it to compete with its rival Procter & Gamble, who owns Gillette, the top player.

In contrast, Gillette’s market share has shrunk from 71% of the U.S. market in 2010 to 59% in 2015. Gillette was caught off guard by the success of Dollar Shave Club and tried to halt its growth by filing a lawsuit against Dollar Shave Club claiming patent infringement.

Understanding Future Customer Demand

The acquisition of Dollar Shave Club highlights the importance of understanding and capturing future customer demand. The ability to fulfill the demands of your current customers and of your customers in the future remains key to the success of any company. After all, customers are what keeps you in business!

This demand-driven approach is incredibly important in pursuing strategic mergers and acquisitions that help you grow long-term. Not only does Dollar Shave Club allow Unilever to compete in the U.S., it allows Unilever to capitalize on the rise of ecommerce and a popular brand name. More and more consumers are buying products online rather than in stores and subscription-based businesses are increasingly popular. Amazon even has a button that literally allows consumers to order everyday goods like soaps, laundry detergents, dryer sheets, and even some groceries, at the push of a button. Purchasing Dollar Shave Club is not just about growing today; it’s about growing in the future.

Clearly the market is different than it was even five or ten years ago and it will continue evolving over the next five, ten or 15 years. As a business leader you have two choices – maintain business as usual and react when faced with a new competitor and industry disruptor, or proactively develop a plan to leverage changes to your advantage. The choice is yours.

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On June 23 the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (E.U.). Many were shocked at the outcome of “Brexit” and the markets reacted badly. The day following the vote, the pound dropped down to the lowest level against the dollar since 1985, stocks in the U.K. and U.S. fell, and on June 27 the Standards & Poor’s rating agency downgraded the U.K.’s rating from AAA to AA. E.U. leaders continue to hold meetings to discuss the fall-out of Brexit.

In the middle market, Brexit has added to concerns for dealmakers who are already worried about the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. There are many questions about what will happen in terms of economics, regulations, taxes and business agreements. While most middle market companies are focused on the U.S. market, Brexit has the potential to bring about change for those who don’t trade directly with Europe.

Challenge or Opportunity?

While concerns about trade and the markets are valid, Brexit, like other tumultuous events, is also an opportunity for bold leaders who aren’t afraid to take action and be proactive. While your competitors are panicking about the future, you can use the current climate to your advantage.

For example, with the stock market plunging two common reactions are to panic about the future or take a risk and buy stock. If you follow the common sense maxim of “buy low, sell high,” your course of action seems self-evident. The day following Brexit, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland’s stocks dropped sharply and trading was suspended briefly on June 27. But did the stock really lose 17% in one day, or was the market overreacting? One week later, the markets seemed to be stabilizing.

Consumers Favor Independence over Bureaucracy

Whether or not you support Brexit, the vote seems to indicate that people are tired of bureaucracy.  The same could be true from a business standpoint; people (your potential customers) now favor flexible startups over large, established corporations. They expect their voices to be heard and for businesses to listen to their feedback and address their concerns.

Think about the rise of Uber over taxis. Uber is nimble, fresh and technologically advanced – you can order your ride via mobile app, track your driver, and leave reviews. Pricing is typically cheaper than taxis and changes in real-time according to supply and demand. On the other hand, taxis are seen as slow and ineffective. “Uberization” is occurring across countless industries even traditional ones such as healthcare and financial institutions.

Take Action

Regardless of whether or not you agree with Brexit, there’s no point in panicking or digging in your heels wishing for the circumstances to be different. In business, it’s impossible to control market changes or shifts in consumer demand. In order to be successful, you must adapt and use these conditions to your advantage. Take action and put together a plan that will allow you not only to survive, but to thrive in a changing climate.

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* The opinions expressed in this blog post are not meant to be used as legal or financial advice.

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Consumer demand for healthy snacks is on the rise. In 2015, sales of conventional products were mostly flat (1.6%) while sales for specialty products grew by 6% and sales for natural products grew by 12.6%. U.S. natural and organic food and beverages sales also grew by 10.7% last year.

Not only are consumers more health conscious, they are also snacking more often; one in five adults eats on the run. Millennials also snack significantly more than any other demographic and tend to eat snacks in place of meals.

Given the current industry, it’s no surprise that food and beverage companies are offering a host of healthy snacking options. There are a brands, such as KIND, that specialize in offering niche, innovate snacks. Large, traditional companies also want to tap into this fast-growing market and are using acquisition to stay on top of consumer trends, compete with rivals, and capture a piece of the growing (healthy) pie.

A recent example is Kashi acquiring Pure Organic, a maker of organic nutrition bars and fruit snacks. Interestingly, Kashi was acquired by Kellogg in 2000, years before demand for natural foods boomed. Unfortunately, the Kashi brand has struggled under Kellogg in recent years and has been a “source of weakness.”  This was in part due to Kellogg’s mismanagement of the brand, differences in corporate cultures, and increased competition from rivals.

With the acquisition of Pure Organic, Kashi is able to swiftly react to consumer demand and realign its strategy. While Kashi may also develop new products in-house to reach new customers, the advantage of buying rather than building is that Kashi has immediate access to Pure Organic’s product mix and existing customers.

The deal is just one example of the importance of understanding future demand in order to successful grow your business. Below are some questions to help you think through your current situation and your company’s strategy.

  • What is your growth plan for the next 3-5 years?
  • What are some trends in your industry?
  • How will you respond to changes in customer demand?
  • What tactics will you use to achieve this growth? Will you develop a solution in-house, partner with another firm, or acquire?
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Monsanto has rejected Bayer’s all-cash $62 billion bid, but says it is open to negotiations. A combination of Bayer and Monsanto would create the largest seed and pesticide business globally with $67 billion in sales. While you may not be creating an agricultural behemoth with your acquisition, there are a few lessons we can learn from this transaction, regardless of size.

M&A Will Affect You…How You Respond Is Your Choice

One of the reasons Bayer wants to acquire Monsanto is because of consolidation in the agriculture industry. Last year chemical giants Dow Chemical and DuPont agreed to a deal that will combine their agriculture businesses. Earlier this year Syngenta, a Swiss pesticide maker, agreed to be sold for $43 billion to China National Chemical Corporation.

When acquisitions occur in your industry, they affect you whether or not you decide to pursue M&A. A major acquisition by a key player may change the market environment and industry dynamics and you’ll need to find ways to adapt to these changes. This may mean changing your approach to customers, developing a new product, or pursuing strategic acquisitions yourself. Whatever you decide to do, remaining static and maintaining “business as usual” is not the best path to success.

Price Isn’t Everything

The Bayer – Monsanto deal is a publicly traded transaction and so it must be reported in the news and to investors. With all the media surrounding the deal, all the information is available to not just the public, but Bayer’s competitors. It’s interesting that Monsanto has rejected Bayer’s offer as “incomplete and financially inadequate,” but is open to further discussions. In other words, Monsanto believes the offer is too low and would like a higher price.

In contrast to large publicly traded companies, privately held firms execute acquisitions a bit differently. First, there is no need to announce each acquisition to the public. This allows you to fly under the radar and keep your strategic plans hidden from competitors. It also may help you to avoid price wars and auctions where you are competing against other bidders.

Of course, price is an important aspect of any deal, but it is not the only important factor. Especially in the world of privately held, not-for-sale acquisitions, there are many non-financial factors that can (and will) convince an owner to sell. Finding out what motivates an owner and communicating the strategic alignment of the deal are critical.

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Finding the right partner is a crucial component of successful mergers and acquisitions and pursuing a deal with the wrong company can be a costly mistake. We’ve all seen the headlines of major mergers and acquisitions that have fallen apart at some point along the deal – whether it’s before the transaction closes or during integration. On the other hand, if done right, with the correct partner, strategic M&A allows a business to grow rapidly and effectively and gain a competitive advantage.

When searching for companies to acquire, it is important to keep three things in mind: Strategy, demand, and options.

Strategy First

Any successful M&A process must begin with a solid, strategic rationale. Why do you want to make an acquisition? What will the acquisition accomplish? How is M&A aligned with your overall growth strategy?

It makes no sense to pursue M&A simply for the sake of it with no real plan in mind. That is like starting out on a trip without a map (or GPS or smartphone) and hoping you will arrive at the correct destination. Make sure you have a plan and strategy.

Be Demand-driven

Once you have developed your strategy, you should determine the right market to focus before you being looking at individual companies. This “markets-first” approach allows you select markets that have a healthy, stable demand for your acquisition partner’s products or services. Without taking future demand into consideration, you risk acquiring a company in a shrinking market where demand for its products and services are in decline. Avoid pursuing these unqualified acquisition prospects by selecting the best markets for growth before researching acquisition prospects.

Have Many Options

While you may only be acquiring one company, it’s not enough to only pursue one acquisition prospect at a time. You do not want to spend all your time and effort pursuing one company only to risk having the deal fall apart in the end. Deals fall apart for a number of reasons – the owner get cold feet, you can’t agree on the deal terms, a competitor comes along, etc. If you have only looked at one company you will find yourself back at square one with nothing to show for all your time and effort spent chasing the deal.

In fact, it takes up to 75 to 100 candidates to identify the right deal. It’s not enough to have a plan B, you need a plan C, D, E, F, and so on. We encourage you to broaden your search for prospects to include not-for-sale companies. Not-for-sale simply means the owner is not actively considering sell – not that they will never sell the company. By including not-for-sale companies in your search you significantly expand your universe of potential acquisition prospects.

Think of your prospect pipeline as a funnel. Gradually, as you move forward in the M&A process, you will eliminate candidates that are not an ideal fit with you strategic rationale for acquisition. With the “funnel” approach you can move prospects along simultaneously, in a systematic and efficient manner.

Learn more about Building a Robust Pipeline of Acquisition Prospects in our webinar on March 17.

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 1:00 PM ET
CPE credit available.

Photo Credit: Barn Images

Reflecting the growth of ecommerce, shoe retailer DSW will acquire Ebuys, Inc., the company announced on February 17.  At $62 million, the acquisition may seem tiny compared to such newsmakers as Sysco’s $3.1 billion deal to acquire Brakes Group or IBM’s $2.6 billion deal to acquire Truven Health Analytics. But there are opportunities to learn from this transaction.

DSW, which stands for Discount Show Warehouse, has 469 stores in the U.S and Puerto Rico and is known for low pricing on brand-name shoes and accessories. Ebuys also sells shoes and accessories to North America, Europe Australia and Asia through the retail sites ShoeMetro and ApparelSave. DSW will use the acquisition to increase its online presence and expand abroad.

Although bigger deals draw greater attention, companies often use smaller, more targeted acquisitions to grow strategically. Especially in the middle market, the value of many deals isn’t disclosed and the deals may not even announced. Businesses often like to move stealthily and keep their strategic plans hidden from the competition.

Strategic Rationale

An analysis of this deal with our opportunity matrix shows that it is built upon distribution – selling the same products to new markets. With Ebuys, DSW will continue to sell shoes, footwear and accessories but find new customers internationally and online outside of their traditional retail space. Looking at trends in the retail space – and quite frankly in any space – the rise of technology is here to stay. Customers, especially millennials, use the internet increasingly to research and purchase products. Rather than risk becoming obsolete like brick-and-mortar bookstores driven out of business by Amazon, retailers such as DSW must adapt to changes in market demand and increase their ecommerce capabilities.

Opportunity for More

There is more to this deal, in that Ebuys has the opportunity to earn future payments. Also known as earnouts, these are commonly used in acquisitions as a means of bridging the valuation gap between buyers and sellers. Sellers naturally have high expectations for their businesses, often called hockey stick projections, that buyers might disagree with. With earnouts, the seller will receive a future payment once they hit certain milestones. In addition to the $62.5 billion DSW will pay today for its acquisition, if Ebuys achieves the financial goals set forth in the acquisition agreement, it will have the opportunity to earn more.

With future payments, buyers are in essence saying to sellers “We love your business and want to see you achieve your projections, so prove it to us. If you do, we’ll pay you more.” This way, if the seller’s positive projections turn out to be true, the seller will be rewarded, but the buyer doesn’t risk losing money on growth that never materializes.

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In today’s internet age it seems like information is widely and almost instantaneously available. Just open up a web browser and type your search into Google and thousands of hits show up in less than a second. But how much of that information is accurate?

Precise data is critical to every business decision, especially when determining your strategic plans for growth. When pursuing M&A, understanding the market landscape and future demand of your customers is essential for the success of the deal and the growth of your company. If you develop your acquisition strategy based on unverified or inaccurate data, you risk making an expensive mistake.

While the internet can be a good place to start your research, you really need to dig deeper to get the complete picture. One of the best ways to get an accurate picture of the marketplace is by conducting primary research, where you talk directly key players in the marketplace. We use a technique called the “Triangulation Approach.” You will be speaking with three main groups:

  1. Customers of the product or service can help you identify unmet needs. Ideally you should speak with a mix of large and small customers.
  2. Competitors will help you identify what it’s like to exist in the market what affects their business on a regular basis, and give you an about the competitive landscape. It may be a bit tricky contacting competitors, and you may want to consider using an outsider third party for this research.
  3. Suppliers are those who sell into the market and whose customers may be your future competition. For example a part maker or tire maker in the auto industry.

Lastly, to tie all your research together you will want to speak with trade associations, industry publications, government or even academia. They will generally be more objective and have a broader view of the market and can even help with market segmentation. We have found in particular magazines of trade associations can be extremely helpful. Those writers generally have a good pulse on the industry while maintaining a big picture view.

The Triangulation Approach

The Triangulation Approach

The main benefit of using the Triangulation Approach is that you obtain information from multiple sources in order to confirm or deny information found in secondary research. When speaking to customers or competitors it is impossible to get 100% information, but through multiple conversations you will be able to compare and contrast information. Using the triangulation approach, you can put together a holistic, accurate view of the marketplace.

Armed with this information you will have a clear picture of future demand and be able to make the right decisions for growing your business through M&A.

 

Photo Credit: Barn Images

The new year is off to a rocky start. The stock market’s performance so far in 2016 is fueling worries about the economy; globally stocks have slumped, oil prices continue to drop, and investors fear a new financial crisis. While it may be tempting to panic, a challenging market also presents a unique opportunity for strategic leaders.  In today’s environment, M&A can be a powerful tool to spur growth and tackle new obstacles.

The secret to successful growth is to adopt a demand-driven philosophy toward M&A, focusing on markets that have a high potential for future growth. Rather than generating a list of acquisition targets, some of which may be in declining markets, adopt a “markets-first” approach. Investigate which markets – geographic or vertical – will perform well for years to come. Begin your search broadly, then conduct research on specific market segments. This will help you develop a pipeline of relevant acquisition candidates.

Learn more about this markets-first, demand-driven approach to M&A in our Feb. 18 webinar:How to Pick Top-Notch Markets.”  CPE credit is available.

This webinar will equip you to:

  • Understand the market-driven process
  • Identify market criteria (such as market growth, competitive dynamics, barriers to entry, etc.) and use them to evaluate a market or segment
  • Describe effective secondary and primary market research techniques
  • Use the “triangulation technique” to obtain the most relevant information for accurate decision-making
  • Develop tools to objectively compare and contrast markets.

How to Pick Top-Notch Markets Webinar

    • Date: February 18
    • Time: 1:00 PM ET

About Capstone Webinars

Learn M&A Uabout strategic growth through M&A in Capstone’s monthly webinar series. In each live webinar, a seasoned M&A expert provides practical tools and tactics to accelerate your company’s growth. Continuing Professional Education credits are available. Attend all twelve Capstone Webinars and earn the M&A U™ Webinar Certificate to display your commitment to this important field in your business education. Click here to learn more.

Photo credit: Barn Images

Expedia will buy HomeAway, a vacation rental site, for $3.9 billion. With this acquisition — its largest since buying Orbitz in 2014 for $1.3 billion — Expedia will compete more directly with Airbnb.

Airbnb, through which people rent their homes to travelers, has become more popular in recent years, both with consumers looking for a cheap place to stay and with those seeking to make some extra cash. Airbnb is expecting its bookings to double to 80 million nights in 2015. HomeAway offers a comparable service. Although Expedia is online’s largest travel agency by bookings with 150 million bookings in 2014, it expects the growing demand for alternative accommodations to continue and possibly to cannibalize the hotel industry.

Build on Your Success

What can the middle market player learn from this deal? If, like Expedia, your business is successful or even the market leader, don’t get too comfortable. Success can easily slip away with disruptions in the market, changes in consumer demand, and new competitors. My point is that if you’re not growing, you’re dying – even if you don’t realize it.

Now is always the best time to build on your success and strengthen your position. You should proactively explore and evaluate all your growth options rather than wait until you are backed into a corner or feel pressured into hasty decision-making.

In addition, although acquisition is usually much faster than building a solution from the ground up, it still takes time to execute successfully. The entire process of crafting an acquisition strategy, finding the ideal markets and prospects, negotiating the deal, and finally signing on the dotted line typically takes about one year.

The first step to take now is to observe your market environment and customers. What do your customers want today? What will they want in the future? Think about meeting the needs of both current customers and customers you have yet to capture. You may decide to stay on your current path. Or you may find that you want to enter into a new market. Either decision is fine, but it should be made deliberately.

Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr cc

What do you do when sales decline? If you’re Diageo, you move to Africa.

Diageo, the maker of Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky, has been a global liquor powerhouse for years. However, the company’s growth has been slowing in its traditional markets of North America, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. In other words, organic growth (business as usual) is stagnant.

In this situation, Africa offers Diageo a huge potentially untapped market. It’s no secret that Africa is on the rise. According to IMF estimates, Sub-Saharan Africa and Nigeria are expected to grow between 4-5% in 2015 and 2016. No wonder that Diageo is pursuing an aggressive external growth strategy in the region.

The company recently made a $208 million bid to increase its stake in Guinness Nigeria, which houses Diageo’s beer brands. Diageo also terminated its partnership with Heineken in South Africa in July. Both of these moves would give Diageo more control over the business in its expansion in Africa.

Diageo is also pursuing growth in the spirits trade by building its own brands specifically for the African market. The company recognizes the need to “move down market;” rather than push expensive brands. In Africa, it is focused on selling to the masses, and sales have risen 6%.

Even though Africa presents a huge opportunity, there are challenges with expanding to a new market. Diageo is not alone in eyeing Africa – it faces competition from other companies like SABMiller which is pushing for higher beer consumption on that continent. And in some markets Diageo’s spirits business and beer business compete against each other.

When faced with stalled growth, meeting demand to a new market can be a life-saver for your business. Diageo has recognized the need to go where demand is on the rise.

However different your product, you may be in a similar position to Diageo – you see the writing on the wall and your once profitable markets are shrinking or stagnant. Don’t despair. Now is the time to look to future demand. Which markets are growing? Where are new customers to be found?

Once you’ve identified a market in which to expand, think about how you’ll get there? You can use M&A to expand rapidly and effectively in a new market and ensure your business continues to thrive.

Photo Credit – Nicholas Raymond via Flickr cc

The Affordable Care Act still is impacting the healthcare industry, affecting players of all sizes from doctors’ offices, hospitals and medical device companies to large pharmaceuticals.

Mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare sector have doubled over the same period in 2014. According to Reuters data through April 24, a wave of mergers produced $193.9 billion in announced deals as drug manufacturers looked to restock their pipelines with generic pharmaceuticals.

According to the KPMG 2015 M&A Outlook, 84 percent of executives surveyed expect the Affordable Care Act to drive “significant” activity in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences.

In the middle market, dealmakers are also expecting healthcare to skyrocket over the next 12 months. Executives cited consumer confidence, uptick in actionable leads, and urgency to close deals before a potential rise in interest rates.

Despite the wave of activity, not all of the announced deals are being executed.  Mylan has strongly rejected Teva’s $40 billion takeover bid, while Perrigo has rejected Mylan’s increased takeover mid of $33 billion.

The excitement is not limited to M&A deal-making alone. Investors also see opportunities in the industry. According to Pitchbook data, venture capital invested in the healthcare industry rose from $8.6 billion in 2010 to $13.1 billion in 2014.

Will Healthcare M&A Affect Me?

The short answer is yes.

Whether your business is directly involved in the industry or serves an adjacent market, the current wave of transactions is transforming the healthcare sector. These changes present new opportunities and challenges. We’ve found some of our clients in this space are growing at astonishing rates while others have hit roadblocks as they navigate the new regulatory and political environment.

Regardless of your situation you cannot expect to go about business as usual. If you’re involved in this space, be aware of market moves and take a close look at your business’s strategic plan.

What Should You Do?

Remain proactive and seek out opportunities for growth – either organically or externally. When thinking about your strategic plan, here are some pointers:

  • Consider future demand – What will your customers want in one, two, and/or five years? How will you fulfill this need? You may anticipate a demand in the next five years and begin internally developing a new product or service. Or you may acquire a new technology to rapidly fulfill a need. Perhaps you will pursue both strategies.
  • Adapt to changing market dynamics – How will the regulatory changes and political developments affect you? Where are new opportunities and how can you take advantage of them? What new challenges do you now face and how will you overcome them?
  • Pay attention to M&A activity – Whether or not you plan to acquire you cannot afford to ignore what is happening in healthcare M&A. What effect will consolidation or other deals by competitors or suppliers have on your business? Are you prepared for these changes?
  • Move quickly! – Develop a strategic plan and be prepared to move swiftly to execute it. Don’t act impulsively, but don’t wait around too long or the opportunity may be gone.

While it is impossible to predict the exact effect of the Affordable Care Act and robust healthcare M&A on your business, you do have the ability to study your options and remain proactive. Now is an exciting time in the industry; there are many opportunities for growth. Pursue them!

Explore your options for growth with the following tool. Download your free copy of the tool today. 

Finding Opportunities for Growth: The Opportunity Matrix

 

 Photo Credit: Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet via Flickr cc

 

Don’t let the competition define your external growth strategy. Instead, plan for the people who matter most ─ your customers.

Let’s face it ─ we all care about what other people think, and in business that often means measuring how we stack up against the competition. While it’s important to keep an eye on competitors, it’s unwise to base your strategy on what they do. Playing catch-up is not a winning formula for three reasons:

1) You will always be a step behind. Necessarily, you can only react to what your competitors do after the fact. How can you be innovative if you are always waiting for…Continue reading this post on AMA Playbook.

*This post was originally published on AMA Playbook. Visit David Braun’s author page to read all of his articles.